At the time of writing news is coming through of an airplane crash at Cork airport; I’m not going to add to the speculation here, suffice to say that thoughts and prayers are with those affected.
Our politicians on the hustings are now faced with their first curve ball in this curious election, and how they handle this one will say a lot about their communications and leadership skills.
The Invisible Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, has a responsibility to take the lead, however much Fianna Fail would prefer to keep him locked in the shed until the election is over. Cork native Mícheál Martin will have to resist the urge to grandstand in his own back yard, and anyone who has seen his narcissistic party election video will understand how hard he will find it to keep himself in check.
Unconsciously, the media will graduate towards comments from those they perceive to be the leaders-in-waiting of the country, so expect the competition for face time to be between Enda Kenny and Martin, and very little from the left or the independents, whose campaign launches will now fade away as the accident story takes over.
Enda Kenny has started well, calling for a minute’s silence at his press conference this morning, and for once his stilted public persona might be of benefit to him, especially if Martin tries to make political capital of the whole thing.
Crisis management is a communications art in itself, as evidenced by the Twitter reaction to news of the tragedy; at one point there were more dead and injured than there were people on the plane, which emphasizes the need for information to be both timely and correct.
Elections regularly throw up events like this that, whilst not political in themselves, have an enormous effect on the political discourse. In Sweden, a general election and referendum was thrown completely out of kilter when Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was stabbed to death in a Stockholm department store.
Some more cynical commentators have suggested that had campaigning continued as normal, her party may well have suffered at the polls; instead, political activity was suspended and her Social Democratic party were able to postpone their demise for another four years.
Either way, today will be a day for treading carefully, and as ever it is Fianna Fáil who have the most to lose. How Martin negotiates the ego minefield that such a tragedy presents us with will set the tone for the survival- or otherwise- of Dev’s party.